Pionk’s OT blast propels Jets past Avalanche in Denver

During training camp for the Winnipeg Jets, one of the many changes Rick Bowness wanted to install was to get the team’s defencemen to be more involved in the rush, to contribute more offensively.

Watching from home as he recovers from COVID, he must have loved what he saw Wednesday night in Denver as Neal Pionk’s second of the game was the overtime winner in a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

For the third straight game to start the season, the Jets opened the scoring, but this time it was not Mark Scheifele. Sam Gagner, who was only in the lineup because Nikolaj Ehlers was scratched due to injury, banged home a rebound on a power play just under seven minutes in.

Later in the frame during 4-on-4 action, Mason Appleton, elevated to the top line in the absence of Ehlers, led a break into the Avalanche zone and dropped a perfect pass to Neal Pionk who blasted it past Alexandar Georgiev to make it 2-0.

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But just like in the first two games of the season, the second period was a problem.

Early in the frame, the Jets got hemmed in their own zone, unable to clear despite multiple opportunities and the Avalanche top line made them pay. Mikko Rantanen cashed in from the slot to make it 2-1.

Winnipeg was able to respond, however, as Cole Perfetti scored his first of the year off a great, patient feed from Blake Wheeler right before the halfway point of the second.

It seemed as if the Jets might be able to hold off the Avalanche, but the defending champs proved late in the period how quickly they can turn the tide.

In what felt very similar to their first goal, the Avalanche top line pinned the Jets in their own end for a long sequence, during which Neal Pionk lost his stick. It resulted in a second goal for Rantanen, but the Avs weren’t done there.

After Appleton was called for a slashing penalty, the lethal Colorado power play went to work as Valeri Nichushkin buried his fifth goal of the season from in close on Connor Hellebuyck to tie the game heading to the third period.

The third period was fairly uneventful, aside from a two-minute stretch of 4-on-4 hockey. Neither team was able to generate much in terms of scoring chances, sending the game to overtime.

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The extra session did not last long. After Rantanen ripped a shot wide of the net, MacKinnon was squeezed off the puck by Appleton, springing Pionk on a 2-on-1 with Adam Lowry. Pionk let one fly from the faceoff dot, pinging it in off the post for the game-winning goal.

The Jets (2-1) don’t have much time to celebrate the win as they visit the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night. Puck drop is just after 9 p.m., pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 6:30 p.m.

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